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A Story of a Jackdaw


At one end of the Wiltshire village where I was staying there was a
group of half-a-dozen cottages surrounded by gardens and shade trees,
and every time I passed this spot on my way to and from the downs on
that side, I was hailed by a loud challenging cry--a sort of "Hullo,
who goes there!" Unmistakably the voice of a jackdaw, a pet bird no
doubt, friendly and impudent as one always expects Jackie to be. And as
I always like to learn the history of every pet daw I come across, I
went down to the cottage the cry usually came from to make enquiries.
The door was opened to me by a tall, colourless, depressed-looking
woman, who said in reply to my question that she didn't own no jackdaw.
There was such a bird there, but it was her husband's and she didn't
know nothing about it. I couldn't see it because it had flown away
somewhere and wouldn't be back for a long time. I could ask her husband
about it; he was the village sweep, and also had a carpenter's shop.

I did not venture to cross-question her; but the history of the daw
came to me soon enough--on the evening of the same day in fact. I was
staying at the inn and had already become aware that the bar-parlour
was the customary meeting-place of a majority of the men in that small
isolated centre of humanity. There was no club nor institute or
reading-room, nor squire or other predominant person to regulate things
differently. The landlord, wise in his generation, provided newspapers
liberally as well as beer, and had his reward. The people who gathered
there of an evening included two or three farmers, a couple of
professional gentlemen--not the vicar; a man of property, the postman,
the carrier, the butcher, the baker and other tradesmen, the farm and
other labourers, and last, but not least, the village sweep. A curious
democratic assembly to be met with in a rural village in a purely
agricultural district, extremely conservative in politics.

I had already made the acquaintance of some of the people, high and
low, and on that evening, hearing much hilarious talk in the parlour, I
went in to join the company, and found fifteen or twenty persons
present. The conversation, when I found a seat, had subsided into a
quiet tone, but presently the door opened and a short, robust-looking
man with a round, florid, smiling face looked in upon us.

"Hullo, Jimmy, what makes you so late?" said someone in the room.
"We're waiting to hear the finish of all that trouble about your bird
at home. Stolen any more of your wife's jewellery? Come in, and let's
hear all about it."

"Oh, give him time," said another. "Can't you see his brain's busy
inventing something new to tell us!"

"Inventing, you say!" exclaimed Jimmy, with affected anger. "There's no
need to do that! That there bird does tricks nobody would think of."

Here the person sitting next to me, speaking low, informed me that this
was Jimmy Jacob, the sweep, that he owned a pet jackdaw, known to every
one in the village, and supposed to be the cleverest bird that ever
was. He added that Jimmy could be very amusing about his bird.

"I'd already begun to feel curious about that bird of yours," I said,
addressing the sweep. "I'd like very much to hear his history. Did you
take him from the nest?"

"Yes, Jim," said the man next to me. "Tell us how you came by the bird;
it's sure to be a good story."

Jimmy, having found a seat and had a mug of beer put before him, began
by remarking that he knew someone had been interesting himself in that
bird of his. "When I went home to tea this afternoon," he continued,
"my missus, she says to me: 'There's that bird of yours again,' she
says."

"'What bird,' says I. 'If you mean Jac,' says I, 'what's he done now?--
out with it.'

"'We'll talk about what he's done bimeby,' says she. 'What I mean is, a
gentleman called to ask about that bird.'

"'Oh, did he?' says I. 'Yes,' she says. 'I told him I didn't know
nothing about it. He could go and ask you. You'd be sure to tell him a
lot.'

"'And what did the gentleman say to that?' says I.

"'He arsked me who you was, an' I said you was the sweep an' you had a
carpenter's shop near the pub, and was supposed to do carpentering.'

"_Supposed_ to do carpentering! That's how she said it.

"'And what did the gentleman say to that?' says I.

"'He said he thought he seen you at the inn, and I said that's just
where he would see you.'

"'Anything more between you and the gentleman?' says I, and she said:
'No, nothing more except that he said he'd look you up and arst if you
was a funny little fat man, sort of round, with a little red face.' And
I said, 'Yes, that's him.'"

Here I thought it time to break in. "It's true," I said, "I called at
your cottage and saw your wife, but there's no truth in the account
you've given of the conversation I had with her."

There was a general laugh. "Oh, very well," said Jimmy. "After that
I've nothing more to say about the bird or anything else."

I replied that I was sorry, but we need not begin our acquaintance by
quarrelling--that it would be better to have a drink together.

Jimmy smiled consent, and I called for another pint for Jimmy and a
soda for myself; then added I was so sorry he had taken it that way as
I should have liked to hear how he got his bird.

He answered that if I put it that way he wouldn't mind telling me. And
everybody was pleased, and composed ourselves once more to listen.

"How I got that there bird was like this," he began. "It were about
half after four in the morning, summer before last, an' I was just
having what I may call my beauty sleep, when all of a sudding there
came a most thundering rat-a-tat-tat at the door.

"'Good Lord,' says my missus, 'whatever is that?'

"'Sounds like a knock at the door,' says I. 'Just slip on your thingamy
an' go see.'

"'No,' she says, 'you must go, it might be a man.'

"'No,' I says, 'it ain't nothing of such consekince as that. It's only
an old woman come to borrow some castor oil.'

"So she went and bimeby comes back and says: 'It's a man that's called
to see you an' it's very important.'

"'Tell him I'm in bed,' says I, 'and can't get up till six o'clock.'

"Well, after a lot of grumbling, she went again, then came back and
says the man won't go away till he seen me, as it's very important.
'Something about a bird,' she says.

"'A bird!' I says, 'what d'you mean by a bird?'

"'A rook!' she says.

"'A rook!' says I. 'Is he a madman, or what?'

"'He's a man at the door,' she says, 'an' he won't go away till he sees
you, so you'd better git up and see him.'

"'All right, old woman,' I says, 'I'll git up as you say I must, and
I'll smash him. Get me something to put on,' I says.

"'No,' she says, 'don't smash him'; and she give me something to put on,
weskit and trousers, so I put on the weskit and got one foot in a
slipper, and went out to him with the trousers in my hand. And there he
was at the door, sure enough, a tramp!

"'Now, my man,' says I, very severe-like, 'what's this something
important you've got me out of bed at four of the morning for? Is it
the end of the world, or what?'

"He looked at me quite calm and said it was something important but not
that--not the end of the world. 'I'm sorry to disturb you,' he says,
'but women don't understand things properly,' he says, 'an' I always
think it best to speak to a man.'

"'That's all very well,' I says, 'but how long do you intend to keep me
here with nothing but this on?'

"'I'm just coming to it,' he says, not a bit put out. 'It's like this,'
he says. 'I'm from the north--Newcastle way--an' on my way to
Dorchester, looking for work,' he says.

"'Yes, I see you are!' says I, looking him up and down, fierce-like.

"'Last evening,' he says, 'I come to a wood about a mile from this 'ere
village, and I says to myself, "I'll stay here and go on in the
morning." So I began looking about and found some fern and cut an
armful and made a bed under a oak-tree. I slep' there till about three
this morning. When I opened my eyes, what should I see but a bird
sitting on the ground close to me? I no sooner see it than I says to
myself, "That bird is as good as a breakfast," I says. So I just put
out my hand and copped it. And here it is!' And out he pulled a bird
from under his coat.

"'That's a young jackdaw,' I says.

"'You may call it a jackdaw if you like,' says he; 'but what I want you
to understand is that it ain't no ornary bird. It's a bird,' he says,
'that'll do you hansom and you'll be proud to have, and I've called
here to make you a present of it. All I want is a bit of bread, a pinch
of tea, and some sugar to make my breakfast in an hour's time when I
git to some cottage by the road where they got a fire lighted,' he
says.

"When he said that, I burst out laughing, a foolish thing to do, mark
you, for when you laugh, you're done for; but I couldn't help it for
the life of me. I'd seen many tramps but never such a cool one as this.

"I no sooner laughed than he put the bird in my hands, and I had to
take it. 'Good Lord!' says I. Then I called to the missus to fetch me
the loaf and a knife, and when I got it I cut him off half the loaf.
'Don't give him that,' she says: I'll cut him a piece.' But all I says
was, 'Go and git me the tea.'

"'There's a very little for breakfast,' she says. But I made her fetch
the caddy, and he put out his hand and I half filled it with tea.
'Isn't that enough?' says I; 'well, then, have some more,' I says; and
he had some more. Then I made her fetch the bacon and began cutting him
rashers. 'One's enough,' says the old woman. 'No,' says I, 'let him
have a good breakfast. The bird's worth it,' says I and went on cutting
him bacon. 'Anything more?' I arst him.

"'If you've a copper or two to spare,' he says, 'it'll be a help to me
on my way to Dorchester.' "'Certainly,' says I, and I began to feel in
my trouser pockets and found a florin. 'Here,' I says, 'it's all I
have, but you're more than welcome to it.'

"Then my missus she giv' a sort of snort, and walked off.

"'And now,' says I, 'per'aps you won't mind letting me go back to git
some clothes on.'

"In one minute,' he says, and went on calmly stowing the things away,
and when he finished, he looks at me quite serious, and says, 'I'm
obliged to you,' he says, 'and I hope you haven't ketched cold standing
with your feet on them bricks and nothing much on you,' he says. 'But I
want most particular to arst you not to forget to remember about that
bird I giv' you,' he says. 'You call it a jackdaw, and I've no
particular objection to that, only don't go and run away with the idea
that it's just an or'nary jackdaw. It's a different sort, and you'll
come to know its value bime-by, and that it ain't the kind of bird you
can buy with a bit of bread and a pinch of tea,' he says. 'And there's
something else you've got to think of--that wife of yours. I've been
sort of married myself and can feel for you,' he says. 'The time will
come when that there bird's pretty little ways will amuse her, and last
of all it'll make her smile, and you'll get the benefit of that,' he
says. 'And you'll remember the bird was giv' to you by a man named
Jones--that's my name, Jones--walking from Newcastle to Dorchester,
looking for work. A poor man, you'll say, down on his luck, but not one
of the common sort, not a greedy, selfish man, but a man that's always
trying to do something to make others happy,' he says.

"And after that, he said, 'Good-bye,' without a smile, and walked off.

"And there at the door I stood, I don't know how long, looking after
him going down the road. Then I laughed; I don't know that I ever
laughed so much in my life, and at last I had to sit down on the bricks
to go on laughing more comfortably, until the missus came and arst me,
sarcastic-like, if I'd got the high-strikes, and if she'd better get a
bucket of water to throw over me.

"I says, 'No, I don't want no water. Just let me have my laugh out and
then it'll be all right.' Well, I don't see nothing to laugh at,' she
says. 'And I s'pose you thought you giv' him a penny. Well, it wasn't a
penny, it was a florin,' she says.

"'And little enough, too,' I says. 'What that man said to me, to say
nothing of the bird, was worth a sovereign. But you are a woman, and
can't understand that,' I says. 'No,' she says, 'I can't, and lucky for
you, or we'd 'a' been in the workhouse before now,' she says.

"And that's how I got the bird."

W. H. Hudson